News has a trust problem. Beyond the rise of fake news, the institutional attacks on journalism (not to mention plenty of self-inflicted wounds) have eroded the public’s ability to trust what they read. Just 18 percent of Americans said they have “a lot” of trust in news from national news organizations, according to a 2016 report from Pew.
Improving online news literacy and increasing trust in journalism are core parts of the mission of the News Integrity Initiative, a new project announced by CUNY Graduate School of Journalism today. It’s an ambitious concept infused with significant early capital: $14 million has been pledged at launch, thanks to the efforts of 19 organizations and individuals around the world, including Facebook, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Tow Foundation, and the Democracy Fund. (Disclosure: Knight is also a funder of Nieman Lab.)
Those usual suspects, however, are joined by more surprising groups such as advertising exchange AppNexus, and PR companies Edelman and Weber Shandwick. CUNY journalism school professor Jeff Jarvis wrote that these groups were included because the group wanted to “expand the conversation to include other affected and responsible parties: ad agencies, brands, ad networks, ad technology, PR, politics, civil society.”
Specific project ideas from The News Integrity Initiative are still slim, but some work has already begun. Last month, members of the group met to discuss the fake news problem, a discussion that resulted in a “tangible plan,” as Jarvis wrote:
We will investigate gathering and sharing many sets of signals about both quality and suspicion that publishers, platforms, ad networks, ad agencies, and brands can use — according to their own formulae — to decide not just what sites to avoid but better yet what journalism to support.
The News Integrity Initiative’s ultimate goal is to shift the focus away from what news consumers can do to improve their news literacy and instead focus efforts on specific measures that news organizations, platforms, and others can implement to improve things on their end. A core part of its efforts will involve exploring existing research and funding new studies about, for example, the many factors that affect the sharing of news stories. “We plan to be very focused on a few areas where we can have a measurable impact,” wrote Jarvis.